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Historical Legacy
Did Obama Abandon Iran’s Greens?

Future historians may say that a U.S. President twice colluded with Iranian clerics to destroy promising experiments in the country’s democracy. The first time, in the early 1950s, the CIA had begun to give up on getting rid of Mossadegh until the Iranian clergy turned against him. By 1953, the U.S., the Iranian armed forces and the clergy were able to put an end to his movement.

And the second time was in 2012, when once again the U.S. colluded with the mullahs. Eli Lake:

One of the great hypotheticals of Barack Obama’s presidency involves the Iranian uprising that began on June 12, 2009, after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was announced the winner of contested presidential elections. What if the president had done more to help the protesters when the regime appeared to be teetering?

It’s well known he was slow to react. Obama publicly downplayed the prospect of real change at first, saying the candidates whom hundreds of thousands of Iranians were risking their lives to support did not represent fundamental change. When he finally did speak out, he couldn’t bring himself to say the election was stolen: “The world is watching and inspired by their participation, regardless of what the ultimate outcome of the election was.”

But Obama wasn’t just reluctant to show solidarity in 2009, he feared the demonstrations would sabotage his secret outreach to Iran. In his new book, “The Iran Wars,” Wall Street Journal reporter Jay Solomon uncovers new details on how far Obama went to avoid helping Iran’s green movement. Behind the scenes, Obama overruled advisers who wanted to do what America had done at similar transitions from dictatorship to democracy, and signal America’s support.

This further helps explain some of the Saudi and Egyptian rage against the United States. The mullahs are every bit as repressive and corrupt as Mubarak was, for example, and the Saudis and Egyptians continue to wonder, naturally, why the U.S. was so forgiving and conciliatory to its enemies, and so harsh to its allies.

Historians may wonder the same thing. And they may further note that Obama’s passion for democracy in the Sunni world and his tolerance of repression in the Shi’a world both haven’t led to much in the way of progress toward either stability or democracy anywhere in the region.

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  • Beauceron

    I saw Lake’s original article this morning.
    This is old news isn’t it? I mean, didn’t all reasonable people understand, even at the time, that Obama declined to even show substantive support for the Greens so that it wouldn’t risk challenging his efforts to enable Iran to go nuclear? That’s how I read it at the time.

    • Matt B

      I chalk this up to naivete and incompetence vs. malice on Obama’s part. He placed his bet on rapprochement with the current regime and effectively ignored the popular revolt. It was a bad bet.

      At the same time, it was far easier to throw Mubarak under the bus because he was a US client. Directly supporting the Iranian opposition could have backfired by allowing the Mullahs to paint them as instruments of US policy.

      It was still a bad decision.

      • Beauceron

        I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive.
        The mullahs still portrayed the revolt as US inspired, Obama’s hand’s off approach didn’t accomplish anything at all, really.

        • Matt B

          Agreed. We got the worst of both worlds.

  • adk

    Actually, Obama was consistent in both cases — he was supporting the Islamists. It’s just that they(the mullahs) were already in power in Iran and attempting to get power in Egypt (Morsi & the Muslim Brotherhood ). Add to this Obama’s clearing path, however unwittingly, for Islamists in Libya and Iraq/Syria, and the total picture becomes really dismal.

    Hence the real question — why does Obama have a soft spot for Islamists?

    • Jim__L

      Islamists are anti-colonial — anti-West — like Obama.

      • f1b0nacc1

        In the case of Iran, don’t underestimate the impact of Valarie Jarrett

      • adk

        That’s my take too evidenced by his sympathies for Chavez, Castro, Palestinians, etc. and general disdain for the US allies.

      • ljgude

        Yes, Obama is a post colonialist college professor. A student of Edward Said’s at Columbia. One of the great ironies is that he fancies himself a realist and perhaps thinks he is catching the next historical wave by switching US policy to backing what he perceives to be the successors of the post WW2 Arab nationalist dictators like Mubarak, Saddam, or…ahem…Gaddafi. There is also more than a little Marxist historical inevitability in his thinking with his ‘great arc of History’ with its concomitant need to be on the ‘right side of History’. Hence he rejects Egyptian President al Sisi as old school and fails to see he is post-Islamist while being quite supportive of Islamist Erdogan. All of which, to my non Marxist historical thinking, demonstrates that Historical inevitability is a crock and that, although there are great historical movements that churn through the collective life of our species they do not march in lock step, or follow the inevitable course that academics would like to imagine.

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